A year ago this past week, Byron got to see his Lord face-to-face for the first time.
I thought it would be appropriate to re-share this piece, A “Real Man,” first published Dec. 11, 2012 — one year after his diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer’s disease. In it, Byron talked and I recorded; through his words you can hear the angst, faith, hope and courage.
Our family continues to feel his loss immensely, but are so grateful he is now with his Savior and no longer suffering.
What is a “Real Man?” It’s one of those popular questions society occasionally tosses around for amusement. Used to be a Real Man was one who drank a certain kind of beer or smoked a certain kind of cigarette. Now Real Men seem to be football players (before they get busted), reality show stars (before the ratings go down), or politicians (before they get investigated.)
However, my vote for Real Man goes to my husband, because he embodies courage — “the ability to face danger, difficulty, uncertainty, or pain without being overcome by fear or deflected from a chosen course of action.”
This Real Man is walking courageously into his destiny with his head held high and trusting in God — a destiny he would not have chosen nor wished upon his worst enemy — if he had one. He is a man with a servant’s heart and a zest for living; one who thanks God every day for his many blessings. He adores his family and enjoys the simple things — playing with his grandsons, taking his dog for walks, laughing, making jokes, singing, playing the guitar and entertaining, and generally making life fun for everyone around him. He’s not letting Alzheimer’s get the best of him, not as long as he still has any say-so in the matter. That’s a Real Man for you.
Alzheimer’s is not something Byron and I focus on or talk much about, but I asked him if he would mind sharing some of his recent thoughts and feelings in order that I might share them with you. We both feel it is important to be open and honest on this journey as we continue to share our story with others, trusting that God will somehow use it for His glory. So we talked and I recorded, and here are his (mostly) unedited comments. You can hear the angst, and you can hear the hope. Through it all, you can hear the courage ...
You were diagnosed a year ago. What are your feelings about Alzheimer’s now?
“Alzheimer’s is something I would not wish on my worst enemy. It takes away one of the things that is most precious to me, which is memories. Also, I feel isolated at times. I feel immobilized at times. And that’s not me. I don’t like to feel like I’m doubting myself and wondering ‘did I remember this’ or ‘did I forget it’ or ‘did I write it down’ or ‘should I write it down?’ It’s something that I try not to dwell on because it gets me all tied up in knots. I’d like to know that there’s something I can do. I want to have a way to deal with this rather than just sitting there and accepting it. You feel so helpless when there is no way. I want to keep on going. I want to keep on trying.”
What can people say or do to help?
“I’m thankful for people who are willing to be with me as I go, and who are understanding. If I look like I’m not quite sure who you are, tell me! ‘Hey remember me, I’m so and so’ — that will work just fine. Names are really tough for me to keep a handle on, and I hesitate to ask people their names because they probably have told me. The pressure can really get to you when you’re trying to remember a name.
“I try not to dwell on what’s wrong ... I get reminded of that enough as it is just by forgetting. I don’t talk much about Alzheimer’s; it’s not that I’m ignoring it, I’ve just chosen not to dwell on it. It’s something that, yeah, I accept, but it doesn’t have to be at the forefront. There are other things I can think about.”
What helps you get through it?
“I wait. And, I keep moving ... keep going. The number one thing that helps is my relationship with God — my faith, knowing that all the things that have happened to me were under the guidance of God. I have a deep faith — that, above everything else, is the thing that I cling to. Then there’s family — you, our children, our grandchildren — you are all part of something to hold onto. I just immerse myself in that. All that doesn’t have to be part of this disease.
“It’s a struggle to be normal. I’m still learning; and there comes a point in which I have to say — okay, this is just the way it is. I don’t like it, but I can’t stop it and I’m not going to give up. I want to take advantage of every opportunity I have to not only deal with it (the disease) personally, but to help other people who are going through it the best that I can.”
What do you consider your legacy?
“I’ve got four grandsons. I’ve got two daughters, two sons-in-law. I’ve got a wife who’s been with me through the good times, and now we’re going through the not-so-good times. My legacy to them is that I care about them, I love them and I thank God they are there.
“My legacy to pass on is this — have faith. There is a way. I can’t say that I understand everything, but that’s what faith is for — when you don’t understand but know that you’ll be getting through it, because it won’t be just you. It’ll be God and you.”